Making themselves heard

Dozens of people protested in the Executive Council chambers of the N.H. Statehouse on June 11, 2018. The action was organized by the N.H. Poor People's Campaign, an effort to raise awareness about poverty, environmental issues, racism and “militarism,” and the ways those issues intersect. At front right is Patricia Martin of Rindge. 

Three Monadnock Region residents are scheduled to stand trial Friday in Concord for acts of civil disobedience at the Statehouse last year.

Patricia Martin of Rindge, Charlie Gibson of Marlborough and Judith Reed of Keene were arrested on trespassing charges during the June 11, 2018, protest.

They were among 10 people arrested that day as part of a “people’s public hearing” on fair wages, unionizing rights and other economic issues.

The hearing was one of six acts of civil disobedience organized last year by the N.H. Poor People’s Campaign, an effort to raise awareness about poverty, environmental issues, racism and “militarism,” and the ways those issues intersect.

Gibson, 81, said he was motivated to act by outrage over the “tremendous disparities” he sees in the U.S., including people who have no health insurance or no place to live.

“I don’t mind breaking the law over this, because I think it gives me a chance, an opportunity to speak, and to say it in a form I can’t ordinarily speak in,” Gibson said.

Gibson said he traveled to Washington, D.C., for the original Poor People’s Campaign — a massive demonstration in 1968 planned by Martin Luther King Jr. and carried out after his death.

At last year’s protest at the N.H. Statehouse, dozens of people took over the Executive Council chambers in the afternoon. A State Police captain said afterward that they had not disrupted any proceedings.

Many of the demonstrators spoke about how economic issues had affected them personally, according to Poor People’s Campaign organizers.

At 5 p.m., when the building closed, state troopers came to clear the room. The 10 people who chose to stay were arrested, the campaign said.

One of them was Reed, 74, a retired Keene State College professor of education. She said her turn to speak came right around 5 p.m.

“I was just launching into my testimony when the State Police arrived and arrested those of us who refused to leave,” Reed said. “So I tried to keep talking for a while, but I got interrupted. So I’m hoping to use this opportunity to say what I couldn’t say then.”

Reed said she wanted to discuss disparities in school funding and the burden placed on communities with lower property values.

“So it isn’t necessarily that in all these towns the citizens are not stepping up, but they’re having to tax themselves at much higher rates,” she said. “And that’s not constitutional. It’s not fair, either.”

Reed was speaking to The Sentinel a day after a Cheshire County judge struck down New Hampshire’s school-funding formula because it fails to meet the state’s constitutional duty to fund an adequate education.

Martin, 69, hopes to raise the alarm about climate change, an issue she said New Hampshire politicians have not done enough to address. She expressed disappointment that the Granite Bridge natural gas pipeline project on the Seacoast, which is moving through the state approvals process, won the endorsement of nearly every state senator in office in spring 2018.

Martin also said she wants New Hampshire to spend the proceeds from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a multi-state carbon-dioxide cap-and-trade program, on energy-efficiency upgrades for low-income households instead of consumer rebates. And she criticized the state’s latest 10-year energy strategy, published by the N.H. Office of Strategic Initiatives in 2018, as prioritizing cost over mitigating climate change.

She said she felt the need to act on behalf of the younger generations that will bear the brunt of climate change.

“Yeah, I’m the one that got arrested, but I got arrested because I don’t want these kids to have to do that and screw up their careers,” she said. “I’m retired now. I should be doing this.”

While some other people arrested last year took plea deals, the three defendants said they chose to go to trial to continue speaking out about the issues. They also plan to speak at a church in Concord Friday morning before leading a march to the courthouse where their trial is scheduled.

Martin plans to call as character witnesses former state representative Marjorie Shepardson of Marlborough, who has worked with Martin on environmental causes, and someone with the climate-activism group 350NH.

“I feel that the court is sympathetic to what we’re saying,” Gibson said. “They understand. This is a court that deals with people on the margins for traffic violations, or all kinds of things. And so much of what goes on in the judicial system is people living in poverty, people that have been marginalized.”

Paul Cuno-Booth can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1409, or pbooth@keenesentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter at @PCunoBoothKS